Academic journal article Development and Society

Social Conflicts and Hegemonic Articulation on the Saemangeum Reclamation Project in South Korea *

Academic journal article Development and Society

Social Conflicts and Hegemonic Articulation on the Saemangeum Reclamation Project in South Korea *

Article excerpt

Introduction

Saemangeum Reclamation Integrated Development Project (hereafter SRP) transformed a tidal flat of 401 km2 to land and lakes by building a 34 km-length sea dike. Basically, SRP consists of two parts: first the building of a sea dike, and next the building of infrastructure in the form of accompanying farmlands, related industrial complexes, and the lakes. The sea dike construction work commenced in 1991 and was completed in 2010, consuming about 2.5 billon USD (at the exchange of rate of 1,100 Korean Won). But the internal work whose aim is not yet clear is supposed to be done by 2020, and as of present has absorbed some 18-27 billion USD. As a result of these high investments and hoping to make the SRP more costefficient, the Korean government enacted the Special Law for SRP in 2007 and launched the Saemangeum Development Agency as an independent central government agency in 2013. Despite such efforts, the special law has been revised several times due to the impracticality of its legal validity, and the agency still suffers from an insufficient budget, lack of personnel, and limited discretionary powers when it comes to SRP.

SRP is a mega construction project that is transforming and taming nature to respond in lines with human interests, but the impact of SRP is not restricted to geographical and biological aspects. Rather, its influences have filtered into Korean society and politics infiltrating the social, economic, and political lives of local residents and local communities. A common feature of conventional mega-project developments, despite their overwhelming overhead costs, below-level projection revenue, and strikingly poor performance records in terms of economic, environmental and public support, remains their continuous growth in number and scale around the world. Mega-projects, such as SRP, normally involve great magnitudes of uncertainty, unreliable but necessary efforts at risk avoidance, and even a measure of statistical manipulation and bias aimed at convincing decision makers and the public of beneficial project outcomes in the absence of proper risk assessment (Flyvbjerg et al. 2003).

A mega-project on the magnitude of SRP reflects the dominant interests and ideologies of society, while re-arranging social relations often culminating into an incidental hegemonic articulation of social and ecological dimensions inscribed within the project (Greider and Garkovich 1994). This paper focuses on this hegemonic articulation of social conflicts over SRP. This articulation could have taken any form when considering that the key social forces' political, social, economic and environmental interests are not inherent, but rather continually reconstructed, and that the social forces expanded or shrank through social conflicts, which in turn changed the official plan of SRP while influencing both the social force's interests and the environmental discourses taking place.

This paper aims at analyzing the social conflicts and resultant hegemonic articulation, to do this I draw on a variety of primary and secondary data from 1991-2013. The details of social conflicts were obtained from the webpage of Society of Buan-Saemangeum life and the homepage of the Integrated News System (KINDS), and several local and nation-wide newspapers. The timeline of the social conflicts over SRP is divided in three time periods: the first (1991-1998) spans the appearance of anti-project movements; the second period (1990-2003) illustrates the peak of the social conflicts between those for and those against; and the third (2004-2013) covers the appearance of alternative forces and the proactive development coalition's re-articulation of goals and objectives. I especially emphasize the socio-political context in which SRP was first suggested and persisted against strong opposition, while taking into account the regional development discourse functioning as an ideology, and the regional public sphere dominated by local-national developmentalists. …

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